Michael Keithley has more than two decades of experience as a CIO. However, the IT veteran says he's seeing more change now than ever before. CIO.com's Tom Kaneshige sat down with Keithley to talk about the challenges he and his colleagues face, the need to speak the same language as the business side and the reality of what lies ahead for CIOs who refuse to change their approach.
Consumer tech and cloud services empower line-of-business managers to go around IT in greater numbers than ever before. It’s shaking up the role of CIOs, forcing them to shift from tech gatekeeper to tech enabler.
Michael Keithley at Creative Artists Agency in Hollywood, Calif., calls this shift the biggest he’s seen in his more than two decades serving as a CIO. He also says he fears many of his peers will struggle to make this shift and some may even lose their jobs.
CIO.com sat down with Keithley to talk about the new role of the CIO.
CIO.com: You’ve been a CIO for more than two decades. How would you characterize this change? How big is it?
Michael Keithley: We’re at a unique time in the history of this industry. There’s more change going on now than there ever has, at least from what I can remember. It’s really significant, a big tipping point. The pace of change is also really accelerating. It’s exciting for me.
After years and years of traditional IT — standardizing on Windows desktops with Dell or Hewlett-Packard, and BlackBerry as the mobile device, everything locked down in a very command-and-control kind of way — recently the forces of cloud and mobile and consumerization have changed the game completely. I went from that traditional shop to one of wide-open enablement, where I allow users to use whatever tools, devices or technologies they need to get their job done.
CIO.com: You’ve used the term ‘chief enabler’ to describe the CIO’s new role. I’ve also heard ‘cloud broker.’ What exactly are the demands of this new role?
Keithley: Pretty much everything changes. We’re a global organization, so I have data centers strewn around the world, yet I’m actively trying to get out of the data center business. The primary way I’m doing that is aggressively migrating to the cloud. You get wonderful benefits, but it also completely changes how you have to access risk. Security and compliance are things every CIO has to deal with.
Historically, we’ve had the concept of the corporate LAN or WAN and the wild Internet. The firewall was the choke point where you could implement all your security stuff. Now, on the cloud or mobile devices, I’m rarely coming back to the corporate LAN. And so you have to approach security in a completely different way.
Certainly one of the biggest areas where CIOs can provide value and leadership is in contract negotiations, especially with SaaS vendors. If you’re a CMO or line-of-business manager, you’re thinking very tactically about the problem you’re trying to solve. But the reality is that none of the historical things around data integrity, security and compliance, creating silos and master data — all the things that IT is really good at — are still there.
I think CIOs can be that coach, that mentor and lead in this area.
CIO.com: Sounds like a vastly different skill set from the those of the traditional CIO. Will your peers be able to transition to this role?
Keithley: It’s challenging on a bunch of levels. We’ve always talked about aligning with the business. But this is much deeper than that. You really have to understand the business, speak in their language, understand the problems they’re trying to solve, what their challenges are, etc. You’ve got to get out of the office. You have to have excellent inter-personal communication skills. It’ll push and stretch CIOs, especially those comfortable resting on their technical laurels.
And it’s not just dealing with the CMO, director of HR, CFOs and other corporate officers, I think the cloud in general is really threatening to a lot of CIOs. It’s change, not something they’re comfortable with. And so I see a lot of CIOs reverting back to, ‘Well, we can’t do it because of security or compliance.’
In effect, you can, you should and you have to if you really want a future in this profession of being a CIO. The cloud is an unstoppable force, and the users are going to do it whether you like it or not. Lines-of-business [managers] or pretty much anybody with a credit card can go around IT and procure cloud services.
To put your head in the sand and say, ‘I’m not going to go down the cloud path’ or ‘I’m not going to make the investment to be able to relate to my C-level peers’ is just a prescription for being replaced.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.